The Japanese island of Hokkaido, more specifically the area around Niseko, offers probably the best snow in the world. Elan ambassadors Marco Tomasi and Filip Flisar reunited in Japan for a few epic lines through the trees.
When you get off at Narita Airport in Tokyo after a twelve-hour eastward flight from Europe, you find that Japan truly is a world apart. The land of the rising sun offers a remarkable contrast between tradition and modernity, a place where ancient customs and traditions are subtly intertwined with state-of-the-art technology. When you climb the 600-meter-tall Skytree and see all the way to Japan's sacred Mount Fuji on a clear day, you instantly realize the scale of Japan's capital, a megalopolis whose sprawling area is home to nearly 30 million people.
Tokyo is a city of contrasts. Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Akihabara are places to experience the metropolitan pulse, the hustle and bustle, and the noise, but almost every district of the city has an oasis of calm where the silence of ancient temples instantly makes you forget that you are in one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
However, Japan is much more than Tokyo and the main island of Honshu. The country hides many gems that diverge from the bustling metropolis. Board the Japanese Shinkansen bullet train and head north for a thousand kilometers to the island of Hokkaido. There, unspoiled nature and wilderness still reign free. In Europe, we’re no longer used to such remote areas, but they still exist in Japan. And there is another treasure to be found there - the best snow in the world. That is why Hokkaido has become a winter pilgrimage destination for ski nomads who are prepared to go to the ends of the earth in search of dry powder.
Marco and Filip
Hokkaido is the setting for the story of two friends and exceptional skiers, whose paths crossed once again in the north of Japan. Marco Tomasi of Italy or, more accurately, South Tyrol, and Filip Flisar from Slovenia have known each other for many years. Both were promising young ski racers. Marco favored the speed disciplines, Filip the technical ones and by a series of coincidences, they both ended up in ski cross. For several years they raced around the world and often trained together. Many stories and anecdotes occurred during this time, but there is more to their friendship than skiing and ski cross. They were also brought together by Elan, as they are both ambassadors of the ski brand from Begunje na Gorenjskem. In some ways, they are living proof that opposites attract. Marco is more measured, while Filip is outgoing and always on the hunt for fun and good times. When they finished their careers, their lives took them in different directions. Filip became a father while Marco travelled the world extensively and, in addition to skiing, indulged in his other favorite sports - surfing and mountain biking.
The Japanese Coincidence
Marco is a nomad. Recently, he sold his apartment in South Tyrol to have more freedom to travel the world, affording him the ability to change his plans at the last minute. This is exactly what happened just before the start of last winter, which he had planned to spend in Aspen. At the last minute, Marco was made an offer he could not refuse in the form of an invite from his Australian-Japanese friend Saki who runs a mountaineering agency and ski school in Niseko. "I made the decision in a flash. Japan has always intrigued me, especially the remote parts of Hokkaido that are truly fantastic. I've always wanted to get to know them a little better, so spending a winter in these places was the realization of a long-held wish," explains Marco with his characteristic smile and warm, friendly voice. So, he packed three pairs of skis in a large bag. His Ripstick 116, which is perfect for meter deep powder days, was accompanied by two brand new pairs of Playmaker and Primetime skis, along with a bright green Elan jacket, a pair of brown ski pants and a green and black checked flannel shirt. Marco is known for his unique dress style based on modern retro pieces. The weeks went by quickly and Marco slowly and surely turned into an expert on the local scene. "It all turned out much better than I imagined. I was impressed by the Japanese hot springs, where people enjoy peace and quiet. I fell in love with Japanese food and, of course, the snow. I simply could not believe how often it snows here. From the beginning of December to the end of February there were only eight days when it did not snow. Sometimes there are just a few centimeters of fresh snow waiting for you in the morning. But if the sky is generous, it throws down a meter of powder overnight. I can't even remember how many times I've had to shovel out the car that was literally buried in snow."
Then Marco got an email saying that the Elan team was coming to Hokkaido, and Filip Flisar was in as well. It was a great opportunity to reunite with an old friend and Filip had never been to Japan before. "Everyone who has been to Hokkaido has spoken highly of the conditions there. I really, really wanted to experience it for myself. Of course, I was in it for the snow and the skiing, but as a gourmet, I was also tempted by Japanese food. I wanted to learn about Japanese culture and experience their way of life."
This time, the meeting of friends was different. There was no rivalry and competitiveness inherent in ski cross races, in which they so often fought down the track, each trying to outdo the other. This time, they (and their company) enjoyed a cozy get-together in an izakaya, a typical Japanese pub, where they reminisced about their racing days over Japanese beer. Of course, they also skied together. The sight of two former pros floating casually on endless powder, drifting through the trees, and leaping over obstacles was almost otherworldly. They looked like two kids, like two fanatics, who found themselves in their natural habitat and instinctively let their essence shine through.
"I don't think I've ever felt lighter, drier snow anywhere, ever. I felt like I was skiing in a weightless space. Maybe I would have liked to have the slopes a bit steeper, but when you experience such amazing snow conditions, you really can't be picky," said Flisar. In addition to being amazed by the snow, Philip is also a car enthusiast and was taken by the variety of Japanese models, "Even though most of the Japanese brands are present in Europe, I saw cars and vehicles in Japan that I never knew existed. I was most impressed by the miniature trucks and vans." A week is a very short time for true ski fanatics. So, of course, a vow has been made to return - next winter’s Japanese adventure is already being planned.
The island of Hokkaido is, among other things, famous for possibly the best snow in the world. It's called Japow, a name made up of Japan and Powder. Far from being a myth, this extremely dry snow is the result of meteorological facts. The secret lies in the warm current that flows past the Hokkaido coast in the Sea of Japan. During the winter months, moisture that evaporates from the sea is cooled by cold winds from Siberia that create huge air masses in the form of clouds. When wind blows them over land, it triggers heavy snowfall. This phenomenon is most frequent in January, leading skiers and snowboarders to invent the nickname Japanuary, because that's when snow conditions are at their best. On average, between 12 and 15 meters of snow fall in Niseko every winter. The snow cover can be more than five meters deep, and it usually snows as many as eighty days out of a hundred.
Marco Tomasi, Hokkaido top 5:
- Fresh powder is available virtually all winter.
- Extraordinary nature in winter and summer.
- Total wilderness is only a 5-minute drive from the city.
- Vast areas with immense opportunities for nature exploration.
- Affordable prices of food, accommodation, and ski passes.
Filip Flisar, Hokkaido top 5:
- Bo-Yo, excellent ramen served in the middle of the ski slopes.
- Huge Russian eagles nesting in the trees around Sapporo.
- Unimaginable amounts of snow.
- The traditional onsen hot springs.
- Real espresso on the slopes.